Maximum black printing basis

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craigclu

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I've used many approaches over the years for determining contrast and printing times when enlarging. Split grade has seemed like an interesting and effective solution and the little I've played with it has shown that it also has potential for me.

A few months back, I purchased an analyzer/timer system by Labex/Wallner as it seemed a good solution to my wanted upgrade from my simple comparator and desire for a digital timer. The system is surprisingly capable and its densitometer mode agrees with my trusted Macbeth so that I feel I can use them interchangeably, depending upon what I'm up to. My post is to the question of using a maximum black basis for setting print times. The Wallner has an indexing mode that allows me to pretest a paper batch, determine the maximum black setting for that batch/type and the timer will then take the projected point that I'm analyzing and adjust the direct-read time shown to produce maximum black on that paper. I feel that I have quickly adapted to this system and that I can nail a 95% correct print on the first try quite consistently. The threads I've found in here (especially regarding split grade) seem very centered upon highlight control and this has been a general way of functioning for me in the past, too. Sometimes I use the analyzer to calculate the tonal range of a negative but usually use experience to determine contrast grades or filters. I've been pleasantly surprised at the usability of this system and the flexibility it allows in switching papers during a printing session. Does anyone else function off of max black? I didn't find any threads on this in here.... if there is, I'm sorry for starting another!
 

Ole

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I used to use the maximum black method, but have dropped it in favour of something which always works.

There are wonderful papers which seem to never reach maximum black, including Bergger Fine Art "Portrait". I now print for the highlights, and adjust the contrast with filters, developer and/or toning to get sufficient blacks.
 

Claire Senft

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Maximum black is not a good measure

For printing continuous tone negatives trying to have a maximum black in a print is likely to produce poor prints with loss of visibility of shadow detail. It is, in my opinion, much better to achieve sufficient black and whiteness in the print for the intended viewing condition. Expose for the white and choose filter or paper grade to get things just dark enough to be convincing.
 

mark

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I used it for production work when all that was important to the client was getting all of the info from the negative. It is a quick and dirty proceedure used to print the maximum amount of negatives in the shortest amount of time. I never used it for exhibition prints. For that there was actually work involved, and depended a lot on the type of paper being used.
 

dancqu

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craigclu said:
Does anyone else function off of max black?

I think the minimum exposure for maximum black method as
valid a method as any. Of course any one who has studied step
wedge prints will soon see that there is a max black and a max
black minus and perhaps a max black minus minus.

I'd likely use another method if a scene had no blacks. Dan
 

BBarlow690

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I look at the print and see if I like it. I tried a maximum black method, and the prints looked lousy. Not all my negs HAVE max black in them. When I printed for it, the prints either were too dark or too contrasty. Awful, in either case. When I just used the exposure to get max black for that paper, the neg had to be perfectly exposed and developed to look good. Which, of course, negs never are.
 
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Just like metering technique and the approach to film exposure, printing should be on a case by case basis. What you want out of the image should dictate how the process is utilized and not some rigid system. Begin with a thorough understanding of the different theories and systems associated with photography and apply the parts that are necessary for a given condition. Be flexible, analytical, and smart.
 
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craigclu

craigclu

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My instincts about this were exactly as the replies have been running. I was very surprised at how quickly the method became quite intuitive. I've been running some experiments with various film/developer combos over the last year, so perhaps I've appreciated a relatively "null" starting point when I get into the darkroom. I have been very pleasantly surprised at how well the other tones fall into place when getting the minimum exposure for black calculated. Also, the bulk of the printing I've been primarily doing has been high volume (for me!) event projects, such as large numbers of 8X10's for lobby pix for local theater productions (typically from dress rehearsal to lobby in a day for opening night).

Even for more serious printing, I'm glad to be "almost" right on my first attempt and I find I'm needing to rely on test strips very little, except for extremely challenging negatives. The Wallner allows me to set my standard 12 seconds (you can use almost any time as an initial standard) on it, take a reading of a very small spot (about 1/8"), set the index of the paper being used and it will then adjust the time to compensate for the materials and transmission. When switching from MGFB to Warmtone to Forte for instance, the index gets me right on the mark. The initial index is found by printing a projected step wedge, determining the max black step, rereading the projected wedge at the point determined and dialing the index until it matches the 12 second mark. It then calculates the adjusted time, I can write the index on the paper box and it seems very repeatable from session to session. I'm using a Dimezone-S/Ascorbate based developer that behaves very well with the papers I'm currently using so it could be that I've got the right combinations for me that I've settled into and that could be part of the predictable results I'm seeing.
 

Kirk Keyes

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dancqu said:
Of course any one who has studied step
wedge prints will soon see that there is a max black and a max
black minus and perhaps a max black minus minus.

OK - I'll bite. What in the hell does that statement mean? And please be as technical in your reply as you wish - I can take it.

Kirk - www.keyesphoto.com
 

dancqu

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Kirk Keyes said:
OK - I'll bite. What in the hell does
that statement mean?

The 21 step, 1/2 stop/step, step tablet has at start a
fb+f nominal density of .05. The next two are .20 and .35.
Say those three steps produce print densities of 2.15, 2.12,
and 2.06. Visually step 1 and 2 appear the same while step
3 is, on close examination in good light, a tad lighter.

When all is said and done, print results will determine
how black is black enough. Max Black may be determined
by an exposure through the fb+f. That exposure is the Min.
Exp. for Max Black for all a roll. That should do for the case
of no black in the scene. I consider it a ballpark amount. Dan
 

CPorter

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I know I will be corrected if I'm wrong, which is a good thing, but I think the minimum time for maximum black is best used when proper film testing is done to implement zone system principles. The minimum time for maximum black means the minimum time that is needed to print values below zone I as maximum black. If you know that it takes 10 sec to reach max black, then you know that a time of 12 sec will have the effect of lowering other print values below where you may want them, assuming the print requires some portion(s) to be maximum black. Am I anywhere close on this reasoning?

CP
 

Bob F.

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I use min time for max black to determine Zone 1 film speed and for subsequent eyeballing of contacts to determine development time as per the late Barry Thornton's writings.

For enlarging I either use highlight detail for determining time, and contrast grade for good-enough-for-me blacks (plus the inevitable shuffle back & forward to fine-tune). Alternately, I have started to use split grade printing, using the low contrast exposure to determine basic highlight detail and the high contrast exposure to determine basic shadow/ detail & blacks and will probably go down that road in future as I always use VC paper.

Cheers, Bob.
 
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dancqu

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Chuck1 said:
I know I will be corrected if I'm wrong, which is a good thing, but I think the minimum time for maximum black is best used when proper film testing is done to implement zone system principles. The minimum time for maximum black means the minimum time that is needed to print values below zone I as maximum black. If you know that it takes 10 sec to reach max black, then you know that a time of 12 sec will have the effect of lowering other print values below where you may want them, assuming the print requires some portion(s) to be maximum black. Am I anywhere close on this reasoning?

Bull's Eye!

The "zone" system may be approached very methodically. For
those who have never heard the word "zone" it is approached
intuitivily. Knowing only that more or less exposure will affect
density and that development time will make for denser dense
areas allows for an approximation of zone sytem adjustment.
 

Maine-iac

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craigclu said:
so it could be that I've got the right combinations for me that I've settled into and that could be part of the predictable results I'm seeing.

The question is: are you happy with your results? If you are, then your system is fine. The minimum exposure/maximum black is a perfectly valid system for single-filter printing, although you can also use a semi-split filter technique to burn in certain areas of the print. Your system simply gives you the starting point--a base exposure that is going to be nearly correct as long as you have consistently exposed and developed negs.

I used it happily for many years until I discovered split filter printing, and for me, the split filter technique gives me the same 95% rate at getting a good work print on the first try as the maximum black technique, but does a better job at 1)accommodating a range of different negs, including ones that were not perfectly exposed or developed, and 2)better local contrast within the print tones themselves.

Larry
 

Maine-iac

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Bob F. said:
I use min time for max black to determine Zone 1 film speed and for subsequent eyeballing of contacts to determine development time as per the late Barry Thornton's writings.

For enlarging I either use highlight detail for determining time, and contrast grade for good-enough-for-me blacks (plus the inevitable shuffle back & forward to fine-tune). Alternately, I have started to use split grade printing, using the low contrast exposure to determine basic highlight detail and the high contrast exposure to determine basic shadow/ detail & blacks and will probably go down that road in future as I always use VC paper.

Cheers, Bob.


Yup, and yup! Me too.

Larry
 

MurrayMinchin

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Hi Craigcu,

I've always been confused why people go through so much effort establishing personal film speeds, normal film development times, normal print contrast, and normal print development/dilution times, then abandon it all when making a print by working backwards from the high values.

I find that when making "WORK PRINTS" there is no faster method of arriving at an appropriate level of overall contrast than when using max-black times. This was simple with graded papers, but got confusing with my Zone VI VC head and the compensating metronome (Tik-Tok) timer. I finally quit using the Tik-Tok (it reads only the amount of light, not the ratio of soft to hard light...change one and the total amount of BOTH lights that hits the paper changes) and got a small electronic metronome, then spent a day establishing max-black times (including selenium toning) at a bunch of contrast settings. I prefer to print short of, then tone for max-black.

As a test, I printed a segment of a "perfect normal contrast negative" that contained a solid black, good shadow detail, rich medium values and flowing water and printed it a range of settings. The black remained rooted in place at all settings. As contrast increased all the values shifted from below value I up; each value above moving more than the one below in a even, preditactable fashion. I like predictable!!!

Murray
 

Maine-iac

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MurrayMinchin said:
Hi Craigcu,

I've always been confused why people go through so much effort establishing personal film speeds, normal film development times, normal print contrast, and normal print development/dilution times, then abandon it all when making a print by working backwards from the high values.

I find that when making "WORK PRINTS" there is no faster method of arriving at an appropriate level of overall contrast than when using max-black times. This was simple with graded papers, but got confusing with my Zone VI VC head and the compensating metronome (Tik-Tok) timer. I finally quit using the Tik-Tok (it reads only the amount of light, not the ratio of soft to hard light...change one and the total amount of BOTH lights that hits the paper changes) and got a small electronic metronome, then spent a day establishing max-black times (including selenium toning) at a bunch of contrast settings. I prefer to print short of, then tone for max-black.

As a test, I printed a segment of a "perfect normal contrast negative" that contained a solid black, good shadow detail, rich medium values and flowing water and printed it a range of settings. The black remained rooted in place at all settings. As contrast increased all the values shifted from below value I up; each value above moving more than the one below in a even, preditactable fashion. I like predictable!!!

Murray


Great technique for single-filter printing. What I would do, too. Split filter works a little differently, however, in that you do a stepped test print at full magenta (if you're using a colorhead like I am) and another at full yellow. The best "textured black" on the magenta print and the best "textured" highlight on the yellow print become the basic times for that paper for making work prints. So, if my basic work print time for Agfa MCC is 8sec. M and 6 sec. Y for an 8X10, then that will get me as close on my first try as the maximum black method with single-exposure printing does. I just happen to like the "zing-ier" local contrast obtained with the split filter approach.

Larry
 

jon koss

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Hi Craigclu - thought you might like to explore this earlier thread on the max black subject.

(there was a url link here which no longer exists)


Ole said:
...There are wonderful papers which seem to never reach maximum black, including Bergger Fine Art "Portrait". ...

Dan said:
I'd likely use another method if a scene had no blacks. Dan

Claire said:
For printing continuous tone negatives trying to have a maximum black in a print is likely to produce poor prints with loss of visibility of shadow detail.

Just to be sure that everyone is referring to the same concept of Max Black, I think Craigclu is asking about Max Black defined non-technically as "the lowest print value obtainable from a given combination of film, developer, processing, paper and chemicals." That leaves room for papers which do not get super black. Also, it leaves room for prints which do not/should not contain any black at all. The minimum enlarger time to reach that level of blackness, regardless of how black it really looks, is usually called the "minimum time for max black."

Printing a scene of a white lighthouse in a heavy fog on a snowy landscape at "minimum time for max black" will not necessarily introduce any black at all into the picture. Quite the contrary, in the case of our lighthouse (assuming grade 2, or normal, enlarging contrast as a starting point), it would actually show how well or poorly the neg was exposed/developed and would provide baseline guidance for selecting different contrast grades, etc., so that the proper brilliance could be achieved.

Hope this doesn't "muddy" things!
Jon
 

MurrayMinchin

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Good point Jon! We could all have a different definition!!

My concept of max black time is: the minimum exposure through the negatives clear edge to print as black...including selenium toning. (Each contrast setting has a different max black time). When you do your first work print at normal contrast settings at max black time with normal developer dilution/time and toning there is nowhere to hide - the beauty or ugly reality of your negatives exposure/development choices are unavoidable. From there you can make informed printing decisions.

Murray
 

jon koss

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MurrayMinchin said:
Good point Jon! We could all have a different definition!!
My concept of max black time is: the minimum exposure through the negatives clear edge to print as black...including selenium toning. (Each contrast setting has a different max black time). When you do your first work print at normal contrast settings at max black time with normal developer dilution/time and toning there is nowhere to hide - the beauty or ugly reality of your negatives exposure/development choices are unavoidable. From there you can make informed printing decisions.
Murray

Thanks for the additional comment regarding the clear edge (or some use a blank frame if rollfilm). That was an assumption that should have been clearly stated in my post. You may have just cleared up confusion for a lot of non-Max Black practitioners so for this I thank you greatly. Using anything other than a clear area of the film for establishing a "minimum time to max black" setting would of course eliminate the "control" feature of the test and therefore render it pointless. (Which, I sense, the majority already seem to feel about it anyways!!)

Jon

PS: Interestingly, the control feature of the max black test really saved my bacon a while back. Briefly, my thermometer was damaged in a fall and the first developing run after the damage (unfortunately 9 rolls) showed up as flat and underdeveloped when I ran my max black test. Without the control aspect of the max black test I never would have spotted the problem so quickly and I might have found myself printing on grade 3.5 forevermore as "normal."
 

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I know this thread is a bit long in the tooth, and I apologize for bringing it back up, but someone has to stop Fred Picker from turning in his grave, and it might as well be me! :smile:

The MTFMB test can only be done through a sheet of film that is unexposed, but developed normally. This is referred to as "film base + fog", which has more density than the edge of the film.

You expose a piece of paper to a series of short exposures, covering (or revealing) about an inch of paper each time. Picker recommended 3 seconds, and it's what I've always used. Develop the sheet normally, fix and place in water.

What you're looking for is the first "step" in the progression which is as black as the one that follows it. If it's the first step or the last step, you do the test over, until you get one in the middle that fits the bill.

You must also remember that 5 bursts of 3 seconds each is not the same thing as a continuous exposure of 15 seconds. If you determined the MTFMB using 3-second intervals, then you must also print the proper proof using 3-second bursts. If the first blackest strip was wedge #5, and you make a proof using a 15 second exposure, you have overexposed the paper.

The purpose of the proper proof (as Picker called it) is to show you what's in your negative, or rather, what's in your negative from the viewpoint of your particular printing paper, which is why you have to print your proofs on the same, fine paper you intend to make the final print on, so you can see what it is you have to work with.

The procedures for determining MTFMB are not voodoo, and they don't restrict anyone's creativity (if I had a dime for every time I heard that one...). It's just a tool, designed to show you what's actually in your negative, as opposed to what you'd like to believe is in your negative. The truth hurts, but it's better than spending hours trying to make a fine print out of a negative that just doesn't have the right stuff.
 

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Claire Senft said:
For printing continuous tone negatives trying to have a maximum black in a print is likely to produce poor prints with loss of visibility of shadow detail. It is, in my opinion, much better to achieve sufficient black and whiteness in the print for the intended viewing condition. Expose for the white and choose filter or paper grade to get things just dark enough to be convincing.

I think Claire is right on here. Fred Picker's method of finding the optimum development time by first finding a maximum black of an unexposed negative, and then using that same time to print a zone VIII negative provides the photographer with the ideal film development time (this also assumes that a test has been done to nail the appropriate film speed). This enables you to accomplish appropriate proofing by running your contact sheets at a time to get maximum black in clear film edge. Now once you've accomplished that technical stuff, you then focus on what Claire articluated. That is, you utilize your proof sheet (where you used maximum black to achieve proofing time) to find a proof of a negative that looks good to the eye. Then you print that negative by exposing for the high value in your test print. Once you determine that time, you expose the entire print. At that point you should have a good pilot print. Then, burn and dodge the print until you are able to achieve the look that you previsualized when you photographed the scene in the field. The video entitled Printing with Fred Picker covers this process. These videos show up on Ebay regularly.
 

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Good method for PROOF and early WORK prints...not fine prints.

(Had to say that again because somebody will think this is used for fine prints :smile: )

Murray
 

seadrive

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MurrayMinchin said:
Good method for PROOF and early WORK prints...not fine prints.

(Had to say that again because somebody will think this is used for fine prints :smile: )

Murray
It is used for making fine prints, as a jumping-off point, to tell you what you have to work with. From there, it's up to you. If your vision is that the shadows should be printed as solid black, that's your artistic choice. If the Zone VIII clouds should appear as Zone V in the print, that's your artistic choice.

But the proper proof tells you what's in your negative, from the viewpoint of the printing paper you're using. Isn't that a good starting point, on the road toward making the best print you can make?
 
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